Stop Teams being a noisy neighbour

April 6, 2022

🏷 Teams remote work

You’ll hear about the noisy neighbour problem in tech, but did you know they meant Microsoft Teams? 😉 Teams as a collaboration tool has become increasingly important in a remote environment and many folks have talked about good meeting etiquette. What I’d like to do in this blog post, is cover some ways to make Teams easier day to day, so it doesn’t generate lots of extra noise, anxiety, and context switching.

1. Does it spark joy?

Q. Are you hoarding Teams you’re a member of even if you’re not using them any more?

A. Bin it! You can leave a team by clicking on the ellipsis (the … symbol). You can always join again later if you need to.

Q. Afraid to be spotted leaving a team even if it doesn’t spark joy, you never look at it, and you don’t need anything from it?

A. You can select the Hide team in the ellipsis (the … symbol) to Hide the channel to add it to an easily collapsible section.

Q. Are there a bunch of channels that you don’t care about in a Team you do use regularly?

A. You can hide the channels by clicking on the ellipsis (the … symbol). Whilst you’re at it, select Off in the Channel notifications so only direct mentions and replies will generate noise.

2. Could it be a <X> instead?

Q. Are you making channels (or worse Teams!) for every topic even if it isn’t needed long term?

A. Stop! Get rid of those excess channels by clicking on the ellipsis (the … symbol) and selecting “Delete this channel”. Doesn’t it feel good to get rid of the clutter? Next up, use chat for short term stuff with a selection of people or create a conversation with a subject line inside a more general channel if the audience has strong overlap with a channel.

Q. Are you using chats for dozens of people for more than a month? Are you reusing a meeting chat for all the things?

A. Convert to a Team if isn’t an existing Team that the members of the chat already belong to. If there is a place all the chat members already belong to, make a channel for the discussion. Remember, Teams channels can be deleted later so this is a great option for longer term conversations.

Q. Are you using a chat to collaborate with multiple people outside your business on a project or on an ongoing basis?

A. Use a Shared channel to talk to each other. This gives you the full breadth of Teams functionality, including associating meetings to it so you can see recordings more easily.

Q. Is it taking forever to make a decision or coordinate something?

A. Consider moving to synchronous communication e.g. a Teams call or meeting, to discuss more quickly.

Q. Are people posting weekly updates about the same thing, managing tasks, or other sort of activities that involve repeatedly restating or reusing things?

A. Make a tab for that! Whether it’s a OneNote, a wiki, a Task list, a Power BI app or something else, just make a reusable area for that activity to happen.

3. How can we make the noise stop?

Q. Are notifications duplicating on your desktop and your mobile device?

A. Select your avatar in the mobile app and then select notifications. the quickest way to ensure Teams never hassles you on the device is to set the quiet hours to all day, every day. If you want notifications sometimes, you can instead use the quiet hours, the notification types, plus the desktop and meetings toggles to make a more sophisticated notification setup.

Q. Are you getting lots of pings from channel mentions?

A. This is a classic noisy restaurant scenario – folks aren’t reading my standard channel messages so I start pinging the channel, now other folks need to ping the channel to get their message noticed, and so on, until everyone is pinging in every message! To get out of this cycle, you need to first break the cycle yourself – stop pinging channels if your message is not urgent and whilst your message may take a while to get read but that’s OK, asynchronous communication is meant to be asynchronous. Next up, you need to help others reduce the noise they’re feeling so they can stop escalating too. Start by sharing this post or other helpful articles to support them in reducing the noise Teams generates.

Q. Is the Activity tab in overdrive?

A. There’s a number of ways to address this. One is first getting through your unreads – the filter icon (three horizontal lines that shrink from top to bottom) can be clicked on and then the ellipsis selected to filter to specific types of activity. Use this to tackle more important types of activity first like all Unread, only Mentions, or Replies. The second thing you can do is stop so much stuff showing up in the feed. To reduce the events that show up in the Activity feed, select the cog icon next to the filter icon on the feed. Go through Teams and channels, plus Chat, and so on to customise notifications. I generally recommend making most notification types set to “Only show in feed” except stuff like Likes and reactions which I set to Off.

Q. Are people full of jibber jabber after a meeting or on a chat and you don’t really care about what’s being said?

A. You can mute a chat whether a standalone chat or a meeting chat by clicking on the ellipsis (the … symbol) and selecting Mute.

Q. Are people cross-posting everywhere?

A. Ban hammer! 🔨 In seriousness, most people who cross-post i.e. post the same message to multiple places, typically do so because they think there are different audiences in those places. Stop and think if that is indeed the case before getting stressed at them. If they’re doing the more heinous activity of posting the same thing in multiple channels within the same team, gently educate them about the fact that everyone can see every channel and if things are important for an audience larger than niche channel, that they should post on General instead.

4. How can you be more proactive to stop it getting so noisy?

Q. Are there too many unreads for you to face right now?

A. Alas, there is no way to mark all unreads messages as read in Teams right now. 😿 That being said you don’t have to get everything under control at once. Commit five minutes a day or when you’re between meetings to chip away at the backlog.

Q. Want to keep the the situation from getting bad again?

A. You need to declutter and reduce notifications first so that the volume ofincoming messages/notifications is easier to deal with. After the tidy up, keeping it clean means committing to Teams-0 where you check in on Teams at certain points in the day and read anything unread. This is a great habit to get into instead of letting Teams ping you constantly as it means you don’t need to context switch all the time. Make sure the teams and channels you care about are all marked as read before you go, and if there’s too many to do that because you’re at the beginning of tackling this, see the question above!

Q. Are people pinging you repeatedly or, worse, calling you because you’re not responding quickly enough? 😱

A. Expectations about urgency and message read frequency need to be set. A great way to do this is to set your status message. To set your status, select your avatar and then edit the status message. Make sure to set it to stay there for more than a day!

Q. Are you a multi-message offender?

A. If you break up your message into seperate paragraphs and hit Send between each one, you’re part of the problem. 😜 Craft the whole message and then send it as one so that people don’t receive multiple notifications and don’t sit around waiting for you to finally finish whatever it is you wanted to say. If someone else you know is a multi-message offender, start with introducing them to nohello.

5. What should you do next?

This post was by no means exhaustive of tips and tricks to help make remote asynchronous communication less difficult to maintain. The main longer term tasks I’d recommend are:

  1. Politely educate and support others in getting out of message hell
  2. Make sure to keep an eye for Teams updates that can help you
  3. Regularly ask yourself “Could this be a better in some other other format?”
  4. Check out this broader Teams etiquette guide

Please feel free to share your tips, trials, and tribulations with me on Twitter!